In general, word gets around fairly quickly about the better cafes in town. Melbournians not only are always on the lookout for the next best place to eat, they are pretty keen on telling everyone else where they have found as well. Given that there is so much word of mouth it seems rare to come across somewhere better than you expected. And while based on what I had heard I did have high hopes for The Bell Jar, I wasn’t really expecting one of the best handful of café breakfasts I’d had in Melbourne.
It would have to be located in one of the most obscure locations for a café as well, smack in between the Smith Street and Clifton Hill shopping strips. Not much to see from the outside either, just another semi-abandoned looking shop with a few old wooden tables and chairs by the roadside. Step inside though and it’s very typically Melbourne. A small front room with seating by the window and wall, a second room with a communal table large enough to seat ten or so and a small courtyard at the back, unused due to the current cold snap heralding the start of Winter.
I think the communal table is maybe the nicest I have ever seen. Warm, colourful, decorated with Australian native flowers, it’s just a great spot to sit and either read the paper or converse with fellow dinners. A perfect size as well, with enough space so that you’d not bumping elbows with strangers or disturbing the person sitting opposite you.
The menu is interesting and a good size. Enough choices that you don’t feel restricted in your options but not so many that it overwhelms a small kitchen. The most popular choice appeared to be the porridge, which I must admit looked and smelt divine. Tempting though it would have been to go down that path I’d read good things about the corn cakes and was determined to try them, as well as being interested in the ricotta hotcakes special.
First of all though, freezing cold weather demanded my usual hot chocolate. With a great frothy head, a little bit of liquid chocolate at the bottom for scooping out with a spoon and in a first for me, served in an actual old jar. I guess that’s kind of appropriate for a place called The Bell Jar.
My ricotta hotcakes came with caramelised banana, nut crumble and mascarpone. I’d had caramelised banana many times before but never served with the skin still on, something which struck me as a little odd when I first saw it and I am still not sure whether I liked. However this was quickly rectified by scooping the banana out with my fork. The soft sweet banana, the creaminess of the mascarpone, the fluffy hotcakes and the crunch of the nuts resulted in possibly the best hotcakes I’ve had, really a great sweet breakfast experience.
No let down from the savoury side of the menu either. The spicy corn cakes came with bacon, chipotle, poached eggs and creme fraiche with coriander. Again, another great breakfast. Corn cakes infused with real pieces of corn, nicely poached eggs and grilled bacon. The chipotle sauce added a nice level of heat which you could balance out with the cooling crème fraiche. Looked great and tasted better, and really just my kind of Winter breakfast.
A few punters have been a little negative about the service but I found it very good, friendly and attentive enough when I was ready to order, not hanging over my shoulder when I just wanted to relax. Excellent food and very nice interior. Even the music was my kind of music to dine to.
Food – 8.5
Service – 8
Ambience – 8
Price – 7
656 Smith Street
Clifton Hill VIC 3068
Tel: (03) 9482 7980